Yesterday a leaked manuscript revealed that the Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAv) was detected in B.C. as early as 2004, and that Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada personnel refused to release the information. This comes just a month after Canadian officials aggressively denied that the virus was present in B.C. and trumpeted their rigorous efforts to detect it and protect native salmon. Last week the Canadian government announced a $1 million grant to the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance for international advertising.
The detection of ISAv would not have occurred without the efforts of independent scientists Drs. Alexandra Morton and Rick Rutledge, and the Salmon are Sacred volunteer group in B.C., who collected the samples from juvenile sockeye salmon and adult Chinook, coho and chum salmon that were positive. This highlights the need for a joint U.S. – Canadian task force that includes independent, non-government scientists to address the problem. “The DFO has a split mandate, one that includes the promotion of aquaculture and which has interfered with their responsibility to protect wild salmon,” said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC). “Unfortunately, we have a similar situation in the U.S. – NOAA also has a pro-aquaculture division that works at odds with the scientists studying salmon conservation. Until this split mandate is removed, oversight cannot be left solely to government.”
The leaked manuscript reported finding ISAv in several species of Pacific salmon from the Fraser River north through SE Alaska up to the Bering Sea. Dr. Todd Sandell, a disease ecologist at the WFC, noted that “Given the proximity of the Fraser River to the border, it is a near certainty that ISAv will also be found in Washington state.” WFC began collecting samples for ISAv testing from the Skagit River in November, but so far U.S. state and federal agencies have not taken action.
ISAv has devastated Atlantic salmon aquaculture across the North Atlantic, but wild salmon populations in those areas are minute in comparison with the remaining wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In Chile, where ISAv has also been hugely problematic, there are no wild salmon as salmon are not native to South America. This makes the situation facing the Pacific Northwest unique, and one that must be handled with great caution. Since ISAv is known to increase its virulence in the high density conditions found in aquaculture and hatcheries, the safest remedy is to move aquaculture facilities onto land, where escape can be prevented and the effluent, which may contain pathogens, can be sterilized.
A typical response of the salmon aquaculture industry is to highlight the need for aquaculture to “feed the world” in the face of a growing human population, in effect arguing that ocean net pens are necessary regardless of the costs. However, raising a carnivorous species like salmon is not ecologically defensible; salmon must be fed 5-6 lbs. of other fish, typically herring, anchovy or other baitfish, to add one pound of weight. Capturing the baitfish needed to feed farmed salmon also reduces the amount of food available for wild fish. In contrast, fish species that feed on lower trophic levels, like plankton, are a much more efficient solution and are widely grown globally.
Wild Fish Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the Northwest region’s wild-fish ecosystems, with over 2,500 members. Wild Fish Conservancy’s staff of over 20 professional scientists, advocates, and educators works to promote technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery, and harvest management to better sustain the region’s wild fish heritage. For more information, visit us at wildfishconservancy.org or follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/wildfishconservancy.